If you know me but at all, you will know that I’m a bit of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanatic. Hmm. Maybe “a bit” is something of an understatement! And I suppose it is. The usual trappings of crazy fandom were there; I bought every boxset as it was released, I had the board game, the spin off books, the subscription to the official magazine, the action figures, the Watchers’ Guides, I joined an online fan forum, I had the top trumps, the coffee mug, the posters, the Easter egg, the Advent calendar... I could go on, and on some more! I sought out and gleefully accepted as a gift, any item that had even the most tenuous relationship to my most favouritist TV show of all time ever. But let’s face it, Buffy was more than just a television show to me, as sad as it sounds, those familiar characters and emotional dramas gave me a sense of hope in my darkest places. It was a constant source of joy and consolation during what was a bewildering and often quite frankly lonely time, otherwise known as my teenage years.
If you are unfamiliar with the show, hang your head in shame, you cretin! Is your head down now? Right, I’ll give you an overview. It was the story of one girl, the chosen one if you will, who was given ‘by the powers that be’ preternatural strength and abilities to protect humans from the secret underground vampire menace. In addition to this perilous purpose, she also had to attend high school and be a teenager. The concept was a strong one, as the man himself put it ‘high school is Hell’ so the idea of taking some of the issues one might face during this time and putting them into supernatural metaphors was always likely to find an audience. It’s the merging of exciting action and relatable experience, that, and the fact that it was brilliantly written and acted, taking the viewers from frightening to funny effortlessly throughout each episode.
When I was 14 I damaged a disc in my back. I could not walk for weeks and when I did start to walk again it was on crutches. It took a long time, years in fact, for my back to return to anything approaching ‘normal’ and for the pain to subside to what it is today, a bearable dull ache. This was an isolating and undermining time for me. To feel so utterly at the mercy of others that I could not even put on my own socks was at once both frustrating and undignified. The memory of that feeling has stayed with me, but your darkest moments always come before the light, and the ‘light’ for me was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, broadcast in the UK for the first time at the very end of December 1998. Buffy became the heroine that I so dearly needed. Her character was a brilliant subversion of the usual blonde-victim-in-a-dark-alley horror norm. She was a hero unlike any other, seemingly weak and ineffectual with hidden strengths that outstripped those of her peers. It's not hard to see how I, or indeed any young person, could identify with that!
Beyond the character of Buffy, the whole ethos of the show reminded viewers that, yes, life really is unbelievably shitty at points. Just when you think that things cannot possibly get any shittier, a whole new cellar floor of crap will open up beneath your feet. But here's the thing- You can fight it. You have it within yourself to face your fears and overcome them. You also have friends, and they are as much a reason to keep fighting as anything, even if you have lost hope, faith in, and love for your friends can help you through the hard times. In essence, you have to become your own hero.
If you get the impression that I've put a lot (an eye raising amount some might say) of thought into this, you'd be damn right. I have debated with my friends and thought about this show, its character development, plot arcs and moral messages, inside out and backwards. But don't misunderstand my devotion; I know that this show, just like anything you love, is flawed. In thousands of ways it misses the mark or misses a trick or goes off on a tangent or loses track, but in a thousand more ways it's clever, funny, beautiful, charming and poignant. My argument remains that if years after something is finished, it is still worth deconstructing and analysing, then that's one Goddam good story. But for whatever analysis or criticism, the point for me is that I just love it. I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it! It helped to inform and influence who I am, my moral code, my world ethos, and, if I'm being honest, I never expected to find another television show that would cause such a flurry of interest or excitement in me again. Do not get me wrong, there have been amazing television shows since which I have respected and thoroughly enjoyed, but I'm talking about that elusive fan response, the intense focus that is usually associated with being a (nerdy) teenager. In actual fact, I thought that I had just grown up, like Wendy Darling leaving Never Never Land; I didn't think I would be back...
And then there was Community. At first it did not appear to be anything too special, the first half a dozen episodes or so were mostly standard sitcom fair. Charming and quite funny, but nothing earth shattering. Then one day my partner and I ran out of things to watch, we had downloaded all the films and TV shows that we were interested in and watched the lot. We could, of course, have put terrestrial tele on but, dear me, things had not gotten that bad! So we figured that we would go back to watching Community, as we had downloaded the whole of the first series anyway, and then something magical happened. After having established the characters and the relationships, all of a sudden they started to have bizarre and wonderful adventures and the writing became very self knowing, super self referential, and the film and cult TV references came in thick and fast, each one connecting with our mish-mashed memory databases of silly quotes and plot devices. In addition to this the characters are beautifully flawed and predictable, yet capable of bringing out their better qualities for the sake of their friends.
The basic premise is a man in his thirties (Jeff) who, having practised law with forged qualifications has to go back to his local community college to actually attain said qualifications in order to avoid being disbarred and restore his reputation. He bumps into a pretty lady (Britta) and in an attempt to get her attention invents a study group. This study group inevitably becomes a real one, and the show is about how shared experience can bring with it powerful connections that transcend the usual norms of social grouping. It is also a TV show designed for fans, fans of film, literature, pop culture, television, games, basically, if you have ever been a super fan, this show will appeal to you. All of this awakened the sleeping nerd within me... Suddenly I was excited about a show again. Not just in a half arsed, I kinda like it, sorta way, but actually properly enthused.
And I'm still smitten. Community is broadcasting its third season at the moment, and it's still going strong. When we tuned in for the first new episode I found myself tightly wound, sick to my stomach with anticipation and anxiety. I wanted so badly for it to be as good as it had been and I was so scared that it would not be. I was afraid that the show would lose its way, like so many others have done in the past. I was so focused on this, I found myself almost unable to go with the flow of the episode. I was being more critical than I am over anything normally, I don't think that I could have been more defensive were I watching myself on the screen! In that episode, one of the characters (the most lovable Abed) demonstrated how all consuming a TV show can be, and how much pressure we, the fans, can put on it. As it slowly dawned on me what they were saying with that story, my stomach relaxed and my grin widened. Clever buggers.
Community knows its fans. It is silly and esoteric and takes massive liberties with reality, but there’s an underlying heart to it that is essential to secure to the devotion of any real fan, a moral message there for any person who is not too jaded to find it, the necessity of shared experience and connection with others and the importance of acceptance. We are the people we are, and in that we'll have awful traits and awesome ones. We are generally capable of becoming the very worst or the very best of ourselves. To be around people who bring out the best in you, who accept the bad yet encourage the good, is about as much as any of us can really hope to find in the relationships outside ourselves.
For all of you cynics out there, yes it may be rather lame and even a little bit mental, but I firmly believe that to be a fan is a sign of intelligence and interest in a person, and a sign of hope. That we can sustain the enthusiasm that we felt for the characters and the subject matter when we were young, into adulthood, despite the inevitable disillusionment and heart hardening pain that can bring, is incredible when you come to think about it. Community is a show which reminds you of what it is to feel that way. It reanimates the geeky heart that beats within. You remember to stand tall and be proud of your Fanboy status; it’s not a bad thing it’s a part of who you are. Hell, it’s helped make you who are, and you know it.
I'm a Buffy fan, always have been, always will be. So get over it, because I have! And now I'm a Community fan, and proud of it. I thoroughly recommend that you get on board. Or perhaps it is you who is the one who is the loser, eh?
P.s. Six seasons and a movie!!